Wednesday, July 23, 2014

FORGOTTEN GEM? Sabre Jet (1953)


                I have to admit that I have a stake in this movie.  My father flew F-86 Sabres in Korea after the war.  That was enough motivation to watch the movie, but imagine my excitement when parts of the movie were filmed at Itazuke Air Base in Japan.  When my father was flying in the Vietnam War from 1964-67, my family was stationed in Japan and one of the bases we lived on was Itazuke.  The movie was directed by Lewis King who was a B movie director.  He got the seal of approval from the Air Force and there were numerous technical advisers so the movie gets off to a promising start.  “This picture is dedicated to the Air Force wives who shared their men with a world made desperate by the most brutal aggressor in history.”  Exaggerate much?
the rare war movie wife who puts her
career ahead of her husband

"Stuka at nine o'clock"
                The plot focuses on the wives of the fighter pilots.  A female journalist named Jane Carter (Colleen Gray) comes to Itazuke to write a feature on the wives.  Surprise, she is the estranged wife of the squadron commander Col. Gil Manton (Robert Stack).    They separated because he wanted a traditional wife and she wanted a feminist career.  Note how she is using her maiden name.  She discovers that the wives are all supportive of their husbands in a very sappy way.  However, I have to say that I recognized my mother in their portrayals.  The movie at least attempts to show the feelings when the men are away.  There is an extended take-off scene that intercuts the agonized faces of the wives (with patriotic music swelling in the background).  Unfortunately, the acting by the actresses is terrible so the theme is diluted.  Some of the dialogue does open a window to the women’s lives. 

                For the guys in the audience there is some air combat.  Much of it features gun camera footage provided by the USAF.  This is blended pretty well with shots of F-86s and F-80s.   Too much of a good thing can be a problem as the footage begins to look like a mix tape of unconnected missions, strafing, and dogfights.  There is no continuity to the footage.  The filmmakers are a bit patronizing by throwing in scenes from WWII that include the shooting down of a Stuka!  To make matters worse, the MIGs are played by F-86s.  I hate to be sexist, but I guess it was assumed the ladies in the audience would not notice any of this.  On the plus side, there is none of the silly pilot chatter that you usually have to endure in low grade air combat films like this. 

                The plot is totally predictable.  And rife with clichés.  There is a newlywed pilot who has only five missions to go.  Can you guess what happens to him?  While you are guessing, try figuring out which feuding couple reconciles at the end.  Speaking of which, the one twist in the plot is that Jane is the jerk who put her job ahead of her husband.  There is some comic relief in the form of Fuji the cook.  Nothing like old school racism to remind you this is a 1950s movie.

the best actor in the movie
                Kudos to the Air Force for wanting a film to commemorate the wives.  Unfortunately, this movie does more harm than good by sucking big time.  In that respect it joins most of the other Korean War movies.
GRADE  =  F-     

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